Creatures of Habit

99 out 100 things we think or do, we do from force of habit.  Wow. That’s a bold statistic from our beloved CM.  Actually I think it’s more of a generalization, than a raw number. I seriously doubt she sat there counting thoughts and actions!  Her point is that the greatest effort of life is decision making and that by running on the lines of habit, we are doing ourselves a great favor, so long as we are depending on carefully formed conventions that bring order and beauty to our lives and the lives of our posterity.

When I was growing up, I heard a lot of parents say things like, “Oh it’s just a phase, she’ll grow out of it!”  or  “He doesn’t know any better, he’s just a child!” But CM suggests that isn’t true at all.  She advocates that parents watch the habits of their children most attentively and “nip in the bud” any bad habits we see at the instant we see them. How? Well she doesn’t advocate sternness although gentle firmness should certainly be pulled into play especially when they are too young to reason with. She actually advocates neither punishing nor rewarding but replacing bad habits with good ones.  Part of this involves distraction and part of it involves deliberate effort on our part until the habit becomes natural.

There are, of course, different kinds of habits.  Today I want to talk about habits of thought. I think, therefore I am.  Who said that? What does it mean? I’m not sure but I do know this: thinking is very important. Let me change that. Positive thinking is very important. I have not always believed this.  I used to think positive thinking was a bunch of hogwash. But I am now a believer.  Why? Because after I had my last child, I was afflicted with severe postpartum depression.  I think on some level, I’ve always had anxiety and depression but it had come to feel so normal I didn’t usually see a problem with the way I was living.  But after little guy was born, I began to be more receptive to the idea of positive self-talk: talking to yourself as though you were your own best friend. And there’s really something to it!  Now my depression is chemical and hereditary but by allowing myself to be negative as my default, I was not helping myself and in fact was doing injurious harm beyond measure.  CM would not be surprised by this:

We think, as we are accustomed to think; ideas come and go and carry on a ceaseless traffic in the rut––let us call it––you have made for them in the very nerve substance of the brain. You do not deliberately intend to think these thoughts; you may, indeed, object strongly to the line they are taking (two ‘trains’ of thought going on at one and the same time!), and objecting, you may be able to barricade the way, to put up ‘No Road’ in big letters, and to compel the busy populace of the brain-world to take another route.” Vol. 1 pg 108

Now I have to say I never objected much to negative thoughts.  I thought that I was not a pessimist but a realist! And yet I was really exacerbating my condition by not putting in the effort to change my thoughts… to divert my train of thinking.  One of my assignments in recovering was to take a notebook around with me and note when I conjured up a negative thought. Many negative thinkers have done a great job of convincing themselves they are positive thinkers! I was not in that boat. I knew I was negative but I just called it a different name–real. I was just keeping it real!  But the second part of the assignment was to change your negative thought to a positive. Holy Fermented Fruitcake, Batman!  This sounds like something CM would have advised! Only she calls it diversion.

In fact in what I read today,  CM said that if we are unable, in any area, to “change the channel of our minds” (my words, comparing our brain to a TV set) then we were in very great danger of mental instability or as she put it quite plainly– madness! (p. 115) What a thought! I think she’s talking about being obsessed with something–a person, germs, fears, etc. If we let any part of it take over our lives, we are in fact not doing much living. The thing to remember is thoughts leave marks on our brain tissue and the more often we have the thoughts, the deeper the ruts they leave and it becomes easier and easier to think those thoughts, simply because are accustomed to think them! Then we have the job before us: We MUST change our thoughts.  It will take time but it is really the only choice we have if we are to provide a healthy atmosphere for ourselves and our families. And here’s the good news, after a while those healthy thought will be just as easy to think as the unhealthy ones were before we knew any better. It’s a whole new life!

Will it be easy? Without a doubt, it will be the hardest thing you ever do. Initiating the first step is the hardest. The second time it will be slightly, perhaps imperceptibly easier. The third time it won’t be quite as difficult and if we just keep going and going over days, weeks, months and years, we will be in the habit of positive thinking! Think of a railroad track as good habits and your mind as the train. Our goal is to keep our minds on the track of affirming, life-giving thinking. We will not only stave off anxiety and depression, but we will be helping our children and grandchildren to do the same thing. Having a hard time knowing where to get started: I recommend one thing and it’s biblical (always a boon!): Thanksgiving.  Focus on giving thanks for every little thing: toothpaste, saran wrap, pencils, chairs etc.  Make lists of things, decorate the house with them.  Read One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp.  Keep a gratitude journal.

Not only will you learn to be content, but you will learn to trust the Lord and it will truly change your personal atmosphere and the atmosphere in your home. It is absolutely contagious and trust me, this is one thing you want to catch!

Habit.  Powerful.  Ten times stronger than nature.  That’s better than Superman leaping over the Sears Tower…. (for the record it will NEVER be the Willis Tower. Give it up already.)

Just do it again and again and again and again…

“In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.” (I Thess. 5:18)

Next time, habits of action.  Think… making the bed or cleaning the toilets!  Hope you can join me!

Please feel free to comment below and join in this grand conversation!


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